Full disclosure: A preview copy of Zen Tiles Basic was provided by ChagaChaga Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
Alright, another week, another round of Zen Tiles! We’re not making this a trend, but I had both games so I figured I’d talk about them both before the Kickstarter! What fun we have. Plus, I’m probably moving soon, so I wanted to get a few more game reviews out the gate before I have to take some time off of writing (don’t worry; I have a buffer for these sorts of times). I’m writing a bit closer to launch than I’d normally like (wrote this bad boy on Wednesday for a Monday release), but, hey, so it goes. Let’s dive right in and see how things have changed since last week’s review!
Zen Tiles Basic iterates on Zen Tiles Solo to add a multiplayer component, allowing players to try and find out more about each other’s previous day via questions, answers, and Emotion stones. The solo game is still there, sure, but it’s been fleshed out with improvements to all of the components and a bigger box. Now, we’re checking out the combined force of both titles and we’ll see what we can get! Are you ready to get a better sense of your emotional state?
For this one, you’ll start by setting out the playmat:
Put the timeline on top of it:
Set the Emotion stones face-down, nearby:
The Reward Stones you can place wherever:
Set aside the beautiful glass marble, and you should be ready to start!
The solo game plays exactly the same as Zen Tiles Basic, so, refer to that for those instructions.
For the multiplayer game, you’re going to have each player attempt to consider the feelings of other players. Players will take turns being the Storyteller and describe something that happened to them previously, allowing players to try and guess.
First, choose an Emotion stone at random and recall when you experienced this emotion. Then, place the glass marble on the time board at the time you experienced that emotion (note that you may use the timeline to be hours since you woke up, days of the week, or otherwise; lots of options). Draw two additional Emotion stones and shuffle them together, placing them face-down.
Now, you must state one fact about the situation in which you experienced this emotion. Avoid talking about your feelings, and use third-person when you’re talking about yourself to try and be as objective as possible.
Players may then ask questions! You may choose not to answer, as the Storyteller, but you should also avoid answering questions about anything subjective; focus on only objective responses.
Once you feel like you’ve answered enough questions, reveal the three stones. On the count of three, players point at which emotion they believe you experienced, and then each player explains their guess in one sentence. Correct players get a Reward stone! You may provide an explanation for your Emotion stone, if you want. Either way, place the Emotion stone on the time board, either above it for a positive emotion or below it for a negative one. Place it farther away from the time board if you felt it more strongly.
The player to the left becomes the new Storyteller, and the game ends after a few rounds:
- 2 players: 3 rounds
- 3 players: 2 rounds
- 4 players: 1 round
The player with the most Reward stones wins!
If players don’t know each other that well, you may focus on a particular work (book / story / movie / TV show / whatever) and play the game on one character from that work’s behalf. Everyone must use the same character from the same work, though!
Player Count Differences
Beyond the solo game being very different, there aren’t many changes. Other players may help solidify your guess or steer you off-track, but it’s anyone’s guess. The game won’t really take much longer with additional players, as you’ll experience the fewest turns in the game at four players, as well. Beyond that, they’re competing with you, so there’s always the chance that players may ask questions to try to throw you off, but that seems relatively unlikely? I think I’d most often play this game after a trip or an experience with someone to reflect and inventory, though, so I’d be much more likely to play this at two than at four. That said, I prefer the solo mode, so my most likely player count for this one is one.
- You can try and ask questions that might throw off other players, but I’m not entirely convinced that will be effective. Like, it’s sort of a “to what end” sort of deal, with those. If you think you can effectively ask questions that the Storyteller will answer that may potentially throw other players off of the scent of the Emotion that you have correctly deduced without having seen any of the potential options, yet, then by all means, go for it. It does seem like there are too many potential avenues for that to … not work for it to be an altogether effective strategy.
- At lower player counts, try to dig in as much as you can without hitting a point where the Storyteller won’t answer. This is a tough balance to strike, as at any point the Storyteller can basically shut you down on questions. If you can convince them to answer a few, though, you might be able to get them on a roll where they give away more information than they should. That said, it’s also possible that they never answer any questions, and you might just be hosed.
- Not really a game that you can strategize too much about. It’s very easy to have the game be essentially random if the Storyteller wants to give a particularly vague clue and not answer questions, but that seems like it may be out of the spirit of the game. Beyond that, you can’t really impact other players that much; you might throw them off with a question you ask, but it’s even odds that a different question that you need to ask is exactly what helps them realize what Emotion the Storyteller must be talking about in their tale. It’s a bit up in the air, but this game is more about the conversation than it is about the particular victory.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Very interesting concept! I do like games that deal with emotions and player emotions a lot, though I kind of wish there were more to the “game” part of this. The solo mode remains an interesting way to take inventory of your emotional state after a long day, but I wonder where the multiplayer mode will see play? I can’t imagine many places.
- This is a visual improvement over Zen Tiles Basic, for sure. The components are all nicer. The game looks really great!
- I actually like that everything is a little bigger? It’s less portable, sure, but only marginally. Now, it comes with a playmat, a better time board, and extra tokens! I’m a fan of that, for sure.
- I appreciate that this still supports the original solo game. The solo game is interesting (though not something I’ll always feel like playing; definitely a “when I’m in the mood” sort of thing, but I’m glad they didn’t opt out of having that so that they could do a purely multiplayer game.
- Both games are pretty quick! The solo is, as I mentioned in my previous writeup, but the multiplayer game goes pretty fast, as well.
- I still don’t totally get why the Reward Stones are numbered. I just haven’t yet figured out a good use for them beyond maybe something about seeing how many stones I’ve used in the solo mode? They’re a nice texture, at least.
- The multiplayer game is kind of underwhelming. I think that it works fine, but it definitely has its struggles during quarantine. My co-player and I basically spend all of our time together because we can’t go anywhere else, so me offering a third-person description of my experiences is usually something we both did. Beyond that, there’s no real limit to questions that they can ask or that I can answer, so it’s decently easy for them to zero in on what the possible options are unless I’m just impossibly vague or I draw the right tiles. If I draw tiles that are largely similar (HAPPY / FUN / LAUGH), then, it’s kind of a crapshoot for them, as well. I could see this being an interesting icebreaker for students or maybe a bit more interesting if you use the suggested variant that is tracing a character’s emotional journey through a book or work, but that requires everyone to have a pretty in-depth understanding of the work, which may relegate it to a literature class or film studies. It’s a cool conceit, but I think I prefer the solo mode to the multiplayer mode. Luckily, this supports both.
Overall: 6 / 10
Overall, I have this odd thing with Zen Tiles Basic. At its core, I don’t really enjoy the multiplayer game that much. It’s definitely interesting, but I wouldn’t particularly say I had all that much fun, if that makes sense? And that’s not always a bad thing. When you’re reflecting over the day you had, sometimes you had a bad one! Remembering that may not be the most fun thing you’ve done, but it’s an important part of the process of creating your emotional inventory. There may be a way to make it more fun, but I don’t know if the vague Q&A process that Zen Tiles Basic employs to get there really lands in that “fun” part of town. That said, it also supports the solo game, so I want to give some credit to the game for that, as I enjoy the solo game from time to time. We can talk a bit more about why it’s interesting, though, since we’re here. I think that this kind of game is a very cool thing for designers to look at and think about, as they play with the emotional space of board gaming. Tabletop RPGs have us largely beat here (look at Dialect, for instance), but there are still ways to use that as a tool to navigate the space. Maybe you use something like this to determine a player’s loyalties in a social deduction game! Maybe you can use it to trace through the emotional journey of a round of Twilight Imperium (the time board would come in handy, here). Or maybe you use it to help a younger gamer express their feelings about the game you just played. It’s a cool tool, in that sense, and I’d love to see how one would iterate on it from here. I just didn’t find the Q&A aspect of the game particularly compelling, so I’ll largely stick with the solo game, moving forward. If you’re looking for a cool meditative solo game, or you want to work with others to talk through your feelings about the previous day, check out Zen Tiles Basic! You may enjoy the multiplayer mode more than I did.